British judge denies request to name alleged new member of Cambridge spy ring

Corpus Christi College CambridgeA document that allegedly contains the name of a man who could be connected to one of the most sensational spy rings of the Cold War is to remain secret after a judge rejected a request to have it released. The man is believed by some to have been associated with the so-called ‘Cambridge spy ring’, a group of upper-class British graduates of Cambridge University, who spied for the USSR from the 1930s until the 1960s. Among them was Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and H.A.R. “Kim” Philby, all of whom eventually defected to the Soviet Union. In 1979, it was revealed that Anthony Blunt, an art history professor who in 1945 became Surveyor of the King’s Pictures and was knighted in 1954, was also a member of the group. A fifth member, career civil servant and former intelligence officer John Cairncross, was publicly outed as a Soviet in 1990, shortly before his death.

Over the years, more individuals have been suggested by historians as potential members of the group, including intelligence officers Leo Long and Guy Liddell, academics Ludwig Wittgenstein and Andrew Gow, and physicist Wilfrid Mann. But according to British newspaper The Daily Mail, another individual may be identified in a classified document as a possible member of the Cambridge spy ring. The document was allegedly traced by Andrew Lownie, who authored the recently published Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess. Lownie filed a Freedom of Information request to have the document, which is held at the National Archives in London, released. But the request was denied, and a judge has now upheld the decision.

In denying the request, the judge argued that the man named in the document is still alive and that a possible release of the document could “jeopardize […] personal relationships”. He also contended that the case is too old to warrant immediate public interest, and thus there was “no pressing need” to declassify the file. The Mail speculates that the individual named in the document could have cooperated with the British government in the past in return for protection, or that the file in question may contain details that could embarrass the British government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 September 2016 | Permalink

7 Responses to British judge denies request to name alleged new member of Cambridge spy ring

  1. Pete says:

    Unfortunately for British justice and the person, the existence of the cross border Internet and a British court’s limited jurisdiction may mean the name might be publicised outside of Britain.

    This occurred some years back in the Spycatcher Case “The British government immediately acted to ban Spycatcher in the UK. Since the ruling was obtained in an English court, however, the book continued to be available legally in Scotland, as well as other jurisdictions.”

    Naturally I think there should be no publication/release of the name anywhere.

  2. anonymous says:

    Only one? It looks to me like the USSR propaganda has been wildly effective over the last forty years. Who cares who it is? Name ’em, and string ’em up…

  3. Tony Hetherington says:

    Anonymous: you really have to look at the bigger picture. It’s possible the unidentified person was a very minor player who did no real damage, but who provided intelligence about others in the Cambridge Ring. It’s hardly big news that minor figures sometimes escape prosecution by doing a deal. Identifying this person now, half a century or more after the event, might satisfy the curious, but it could also deter other, current players, who might be wary that despite offering useful intelligence now, they could later be named in public.

  4. Nicholas says:

    Having worked for the SiS nearly 20 years ago, the Cambridge four was still a source of embarrassment for the service as well as the establishment.

  5. Tony Hetherington says:

    Nicholas: you are quite right. The Firm couldn’t stand the idea that those unpleasant ex-colonial police officers who staffed MI5 might be right in their suspicions about someone – Philby – who was ‘One of Us’, so those in charge at the time carried on using him almost to the bitter end in Beirut.

  6. Keith says:

    Tony, you are correct in saying Philby’s supporters in SIS provided him with work in Beirut, but you should also remember that Dick White, the head of MI5, was moved over to become head of
    MI6 and was aware of Philby’s work in Beirut under his command. We may assume that once he was aware of this (probably before he even became head of SIS) he would have been working to negate Philby’s work for the Russians, feeding false information and minimizing access to real intelligence.

  7. Tony Hetherington says:

    Keith: excellent point! I hope you are correct, and I honestly do not know the answer, whatever that might be. All I can say is that if Philby was being used by Six as a conduit for misinformation while he was in Beirut, then any such operation would have to be regarded as extraordinarily successful simply because of its duration. Philby was in Beirut from 1956 to 1963, working as a journalist (and part time for Six). It would have been very difficult to run a long term misinformation and deception operation that would have been good enough to convince an insider like Philby himself, as well as Moscow.

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